What Nonfiction Authors Learn from Fiction Books

The best part of my vacation last week was reading early each morning. Before the sun rose, before the family stirred, before sandcastles and smores and game nights, I began each day in silence. Just me, a cup of coffee, and beach reads.

They were fiction books chosen on a whim. One was borrowed at the last minute, the other was found creased and worn in the office of the beach community. I read them lightheartedly, with no expectations – the opposite of the nonfiction that so intentionally fills my mind and schedule each workday. They offered no profound message, just fleeting delight. It was a refreshing change of pace.

I couldn’t help but notice, though.

I noticed an epigraph that perfectly set the tone for one book:

There are all kinds of happy endings. – Eve Lapin

I lingered on a first sentence that hooked me in immediately:

The biggest irony about that night is that I was always scared to fly.

 I realized that chapter titles were gently moving me back and forth between the present and the past, and I admired how they slowly pieced together a story timeline:

Don’t Ask a Question You Don’t Want the Answer To

Twenty-Four Hours Earlier

These Are Not Your Friends

Six Weeks Ago

I let a cliff-hanger pique my curiosity and nudge me to the next chapter:

I unfold the paper.

Owen’s note is short. One line, its own puzzle.

“Protect her.”

And I was disappointed when I read the last sentence of a book and felt thrust too quickly into an author’s Acknowledgments. I wanted a few more moments to absorb a thoughtful ending.

Although they were fiction books, I couldn’t help but notice how both fiction and nonfiction rely on the same elements and techniques. The perfect epigraph, a well-crafted hook, page-turning chapter endings, and a finale that commands our full attention then eases us back to reality . . . These details satisfy the reader, no matter the genre.

Nonfiction authors, lose yourself in a book outside your genre this summer. There are literary lessons in everything we read. Let a fiction book blur the lines – and show you how to turn your true stories into compelling page-turners.


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